How Cultures Differ

This weekend I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Lisbon, Portugal! Lisbon is probably one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to.  The city sit alongside a river and has 67 hills; therefore, you can see the water and the colorful buildings with red roofs that fill the streets from almost any place that you are.  Seeing and smelling the ocean air was so refreshing and special for me because the beach has always been a huge part of my summer and it’s something that I’ve missed a lot while in Madrid.  

There is a ton of street art in Lisbon, which is something that I love to walk around and observe because it shows a glimpse into a unique part of the culture.  There is also a huge art and food market called the LX Factory that I would highly recommend going to. It has unique little restaurants and shops and on the weekend it fills with stands from local artists and jewelry makers.  Each stand has its own unique personality, so it is fun to walk around and see each one. It is also interesting to see how the stand owner usually matches their products quite well. The food in the LX Factory (and Portugal in general) is also absolutely delicious.  Being on the coast, there is a ton of seafood which made me super happy because that’s one of my all-time favorite foods.  

Being in Portugal made me realize just how different cultures are no matter how closely they are located.  Lisbon is an hour long flight from Madrid, yet the two cities and their cultures are still incredibly different from one another.   Noticing these cultural differences highlighted what is unique about the culture in Madrid, which in effect has helped me to compare different aspects of the culture here with the one at home.  

A big difference between Spain and the United States are the attitudes towards working.  In the United States, we are often more defined by our jobs than the people in Madrid seem to be.  Work is of course a huge part of people’s lives and passion for your job is important; however, it does not make up as much of life as it does in the US.  In my office, people work hard all day, but the difference is: when they complete the things that they needed to for the day, they leave. In the States we are encouraged to stay as far ahead as possible and catch up on the future instead of completing the present and going to enjoy other parts of life.  I think that the idea of getting to leave and enjoy other aspects of life is actually more motivating because it is a more exciting reward than getting ahead of tomorrow. People also take true breaks in my office. Employees from different floors will meet to go get a coffee in big groups and stay out for 30-45 minutes at a time.  I think that these breaks are really important because they allow your mind to refresh before starting the second half of your day. I know that I would really struggle to get through the day without this time to grab a coffee and talk with the other interns. I remember when I was younger, my mom would always say that she and a lot of her co-workers worked through lunch in order to get everything completed.  I realize now how difficult that must be, and how much it must have influenced her and her co-workers’ abilities to be continuously productive throughout the day. I think that the ultra-focus on productivity actually takes away the stamina of productivity. It is easy to get burned out at work, so it is important to take some time to walk away. For this reason, I think that this different attitude and approach to productivity and work would be really valuable to organizations in the United States. 

Another important note is that socialization is really important in Spanish work culture.  I find that it is important to accept invitations and actively participate in conversation in order to gain respect from your co-workers.  In orientation, our EUSA leader Almendra described the importance of this part of the work culture, and it is one that I have definitely observed along the way.  For example, if I spend the first few minutes of our break on my phone, I find it more difficult to be involved in the conversation for the rest of the time. Also, when one of the new interns stayed to work instead of taking a break, the other two Spanish interns seemed slightly offended by and judgmental of her choice.  At first I found their reaction a little unnecessary; however, as I have learned more about Spanish culture, I have come to appreciate the importance of the willingness to socialize at work. I like that people want to interact and share experiences, it makes me feel more connected to my job and organization.

In all, I have truly come to better understand and respect Spanish work culture and am grateful to have been introduced to a different set or work-related values.  It is important to have productivity, but to not burn yourself out. It is also important to invest in your organization as a whole (your fellow employees and the things that connect you) instead of just investing in your tasks and responsibilities.  While I am sad that my time with this organization and this style of work is coming to an end, I feel fulfilled with my experience and the new perspective that I have gained.